It certainly seemed no coincidence that just two hours before the Metro Area Industrial Areas Foundation’s mayoral forum on public safety on March 19, mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn announced her support for an inspector general to oversee the police department. Yes, simultaneously a trial challenging stop-and-frisk was proceeding in Federal District Court in Manhattan, but Quinn’s sudden change of position before facing the crowd of 1,000 at the First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica suggested the kind of seriousness with which politicians take the power of Metro-IAF, a nearly 40-year-old community-based activist coalition.
It’s a power that Metro-IAF is using in a different arena—by trying, for the first time, to put its footprint on a mayoral race in New York City. Before the forum on public safety, Metro-IAF had the candidates out to discuss housing in January and, in February, to talk about education. The Daily Newshas been a co-sponsor of all three events.
Until now, Metro-IAF’s strategy—seen through its 30-year Nehemiah Homes project that created over 5,000 low-income housing units or its push for mayoral control and the creation of six new schools in the Bronx and Brooklyn—has been to work behind the scenes with people in power. If anything, the organization’s attitude has been: we can work with anyone, or as Grant Lindsay, the senior Metro-IAF organizer for East Brooklyn Congregations, puts it, “We have no permanent allies and no permanent enemies.”
Now Metro-IAF is helping to shape the race that will decide who gets into office for them to work with. The decision to run the forums came in response to the presidential campaign last fall, says Lindsay. “It felt like a circus,” he says of the 2012 debates. “Nonsensical talking points with very little to do with major issues.”
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